What Happens to Public Diplomacy During Information War? Critical Reflections on the Conceptual Framing of International Communication
Discussions about state-sponsored communication with foreign publics are increasingly framed in the language of “information war” rather than “public diplomacy,” particularly in Eastern Europe. For example, media projects supported by Western governments to engage Ukrainian audiences, and Ukrainian government efforts to engage international audiences via the media, are considered necessary responses in the information war with Russia. This article highlights several potentially problematic assumptions about communicative influence that are embedded in the language of information war. First is the assumption that communication can be targeted like a weapon to achieve a predictable impact. Second is the assumption that audiences engage with communication from an adversary because they are “vulnerable.” Third is the assumption that “winning” in an information war means getting citizens to believe particular facts. Although these assumptions may hold to some degree, this article argues that adopting them uncritically can have detrimental consequences in policymaking.